A southwest Toledo subdivision that has been without natural gas since May 31 because of methane gas seeping from the ground is closer to having its service turned back on, but it could still be days or weeks before the problem is resolved.
At a city council hearing Monday, Columbia Gas spokesman Chris Kozak said his company has agreed to work with the developer of the GrayStone Woods subdivision to find an expert to survey the site, come up with a plan to deal with the methane gas, and sign a pledge stating it is safe to resume gas service to the 13 homes. The developer, Seneca Building Co., would pay for the expert.
The gas company initially sought a pledge of safety from Toledo, but city officials refused to take on such a liability, stating they do not have the expertise to do so. Mr. Kozak said Columbia Gas is willing to waive that requirement if a private contractor signs a statement of safety instead. Residents would need to sign a consent agreement stating they will maintain any remediation system that is put in place.
"We're not experts on where that gas comes from and how to get rid of it," Mr. Kozak said. "We want to make sure it's safe for our customers, safe for our community."
Columbia Gas shut off service indefinitely to the homes along Oakside Drive after discovering high levels of naturally occurring methane gas seeping out of the ground. The gas, though not toxic, is flammable at certain concentrations in the air and could ignite if it enters houses, causing an explosion.
Columbia Gas, which operates under a zero-tolerance policy for methane near home foundations, said concentrations detected around some Oakside Drive homes are potentially dangerous.
The methane seepage first came to light over Memorial Day weekend, when a resident noticed a brown patch on the grass in her yard. She called Columbia Gas, concerned there was a gas leak. Employees determined methane gas was seeping from the ground.
No one has been able to determine where the gas is coming from, but Columbia Gas maintains it has nothing to do with its gas pipelines.
According to the Ohio EPA, it's most likely the methane comes from decomposing biomass under the ground, part of the former swampland Toledo is built on. GrayStone Woods was built just a couple of years ago on what had been a wooded area in a floodplain.
To make matters worse, the problem is so rare that there's no established protocol for fixing it and no government agencies responsible for tackling such a hazard.
Columbia Gas, state agencies, and the city of Toledo have said they do not have the expertise to mitigate the dangers posed by the methane levels present in GrayStone Woods.
Developer Ron Hensley said Monday he is pleased Columbia Gas is taking steps to address the issue, but is still waiting to see the final agreement and a list of acceptable experts from the company.
"At least we've moved forward to this position," he said. "We'll know more in a couple of days."
Neither Mr. Hensley nor Mr. Kozak could say when the affected residents might see their gas turned back on, however. Residents have been forced by the service shutoff to take cold showers, bathe at the homes of relatives or at the gym, heat water in the microwave, and cook on outside grills.
"It's been terrible. It's a major inconvenience," said homeowner Kris Jensen, who pleaded with Columbia Gas officials Monday to turn the gas back on right away. "We've been safe for three years. I would think we'll be safe until a resolution is found."
Other Oakside Drive residents also expressed frustration with their predicament, questioning the results of testing by Columbia Gas and whether it was really necessary to shut off service.
Resident John Insco said the company told him that methane gas concentration in the air around his home is at a high 15 percent. But after operating a lawn mower and a gas grill on his property with no problem, he found that hard to believe.
"If I really took a look at that reading, I should be on fire or something should have exploded," Mr. Insco said.
Councilman Tyrone Riley scolded the gas company and the developer for not doing more to help those affected by the shutdown.
"Who's going to help the families?" he said. "Someone has to reach out to them to help them adjust to a problem they didn't cause."
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6272.